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Context of 'October 1998: Vulgar Betrayal Investigation Nearly Shut Down'

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FBI agent Robert Wright is assigned to the FBI’s counterterrorism task force in Chicago. He had joined the FBI three years earlier. [New York Post, 7/14/2004; Washington Times, 7/18/2004] He immediately begins to uncover a wide network of suspected Hamas and al-Qaeda financiers inside the US. Apparently, he gets a key head start from the confession of Mohammad Salah in Israel in early 1993 (see January 1993). Salah names 23 organizations in the US who he says are secretly funding Hamas, and Israel shares this information with US officials. Some of his confession, including the mention of the Holy Land Foundation as a key Hamas funder, is even publicly revealed in a February 1993 New York Times article. [New York Times, 2/17/1993; Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] In the next few years, Wright will uncover evidence that leads him to suspect the following:
bullet Mousa Abu Marzouk, the political director of Hamas, has been laundering money and fundraising in the US for Hamas (see July 5, 1995-May 1997).
bullet The Holy Land Foundation charity is secretly financing Hamas suicide bombings (see October 1993; December 4, 2001).
bullet Saudi multimillionaire Yassin Al-Qadi is funding Hamas (see June 9, 1998).
bullet Al-Qadi is funding al-Qaeda attacks (see October 1998).
bullet Several other US residents and entities are also financing Hamas. In 1996, Wright’s investigations will turn into a larger investigation of terrorist financing, code named Vulgar Betrayal (see 1996). It will continue to discover more leads to connect not only to Hamas, but also to al-Qaeda. [New York Post, 7/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohammad Salah, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Yassin al-Qadi, Vulgar Betrayal, Hamas, Mousa Abu Marzouk, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Oussama Ziade.Oussama Ziade. [Source: Beta Consulting]Ptech is founded in 1994 by Oussama Ziade, Hussein Ibrahim, and James Cerrato. Ziade came from Lebanon to study at Harvard University. As the Associated Press will describe it, Ptech’s “idea was to help complicated organizations like the military and large companies create a picture of how their assets—people and technology—work together. Then the software could show how little changes, like combining two departments, might affect the whole.” They raise $20 million to start the company. A number of Ptech employees and investors will later be suspected of having ties to groups that have been designated by the US as terrorist organizations: [CNN, 12/6/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/6/2002; Associated Press, 1/3/2003]
bullet Yassin al-Qadi, a Saudi multimillionaire. He will invest $5 million of Ptech’s start-up money. The US will declare him an al-Qaeda financier shortly after 9/11 (see October 12, 2001). In 1998, al-Qadi will come under investigation by FBI agent Robert Wright (see October 1998) for potential ties to the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Al-Qadi is also a major investor in BMI Inc., an investment firm with connections to a remarkable number of suspected terrorist financiers (see 1986-October 1999). Al-Qadi later will claims that he sold his investment in Ptech in 1999, but there will be evidence he may continue to hold a financial stake after that year, and even after the US will officially declare him a terrorism financier (see 1999-After October 12, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 12/6/2002; Washington Post, 12/7/2002; Associated Press, 1/3/2003]
bullet Gamel Ahmed, Ptech’s comptroller in the mid-1990s. One al-Qadi loan Wright will investigate also involves Ahmed. [Associated Press, 1/3/2003]
bullet Hussein Ibrahim, Ptech vice president and chief scientist. He also serves as vice president and then president of BMI from 1989 until 1995. He has no known direct terrorism finance connections, but it has been reported that al-Qadi brought Ibrahim into Ptech as his representative. [Wall Street Journal, 12/6/2002; WBZ 4 (Boston), 12/9/2002; Associated Press, 1/3/2003]
bullet Soliman Biheiri. He is the head of BMI and a member of Ptech’s board. US prosecutors will later call him the US banker for the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Egyptian militant group. He will later be convicted for lying and immigration fraud (see June 15, 2003). [FrontPage Magazine, 6/17/2005]
bullet Abdurahman Alamoudi. He is one of Ptech’s founders, as well as an investor in BMI. In 2004, the US will sentence him to 23 years in prison for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004). [Washington Post, 10/16/2004; FrontPage Magazine, 6/17/2005]
bullet Muhammed Mubayyid and Suheil Laheir. Neither have any known direct ties to terrorism financing. However, both are longtime Ptech employees whom formerly worked for Care International, a Boston-based suspect Islamic charity (not to be confused with a large international charity having the same name). [Wall Street Journal, 12/6/2002] In 2005, Mubayyid will be charged with conspiring to defraud the US and making false statements to the FBI. Care International had previously been the Boston branch of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center (see [a0493kifahboston]]) and a recruitment office for Mektab al Khidmat (MAK), the precursor organization to al-Qaeda (see 1985-1989). Laheir, Ptech’s chief architect, wrote many articles in support of Islamic holy war. He frequently quoted Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor. [Associated Press, 5/13/2005; FrontPage Magazine, 6/17/2005]
bullet Yaqub Mirza. He is a Ptech investor and on a Ptech advisory board. He directs SAAR, a multi-million dollar network of companies and charities in Herndon, Virginia (see July 29, 1983). In March 2002, US investigators will raid the SAAR network for suspected terrorism ties (see March 20, 2002). In late 2002, the Wall Street Journal will report, “US officials privately say Mr. Mirza and his associates also have connections to al-Qaeda and to other entities officially listed by the US as sponsors of terrorism.” [Wall Street Journal, 12/6/2002; WBZ 4 (Boston), 12/9/2002; Associated Press, 1/3/2003]
bullet BMI itself directly invests in Ptech. It also gives Ptech a founding loan, and leases Ptech much of its office and computer equipment. [Wall Street Journal, 12/6/2002; Associated Press, 1/3/2003] Ptech president Ziade and other Ptech employees will claim that all of their ties to suspected terrorist financiers are coincidental. By 2002, Ptech will have annual revenues of up to $10 million. [Wall Street Journal, 12/6/2002] Ptech’s potential ties to suspected terrorist financiers will be of particular concern because of its potential access to classified government information (see 1996-1997). [Wall Street Journal, 12/6/2002; Boston Globe, 12/7/2002] Joe Bergantino, a CBS journalist who will be the first to report on Ptech, will say of Ptech in 2002, “The worst-case scenario is that this is a situation where this was planned for a very long time to establish a company in this country and in the computer software business that would target federal agencies and gain access to key government data to essentially help terrorists launch another attack.” [National Public Radio, 12/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Oussama Ziade, Hussein Ibrahim, James Cerrato, Muhammed Mubayyid, Gamel Ahmed, Care International (Boston), Yassin al-Qadi, Al-Qaeda, Yacub Mirza, BMI Inc., Suheil Laheir, Abdurahman Alamoudi, Soliman Biheiri, Ptech Inc.

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In January 1995, the New York Times reports, “For more than a year the Federal Bureau of Investigation has closely monitored supporters of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in several cities, including Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Dallas.” [New York Times, 1/26/1995] In August 1995, the Times reports, “For well over a year, the FBI has monitored Hamas supporters in several American cities.” [New York Times, 8/16/1995] On March 12, 1996, FBI Director Louis Freeh says to Congress, “We have several instances where we have been able to show the transfer of substantial cash funds from the US to areas in the Mideast where we could show Hamas received, and even made expenditure of, those funds.” He says some of the money raised is sent back from the Middle East to the US to support and expand phony front organizations for Hamas. The FBI, he adds, has a “very inadequate picture of what perhaps is much greater activity” in the US. He notes the difficulty of tracing “those funds to actual military or terrorist operations anywhere outside the US.” Hamas leaders say any such money raised is used for charitable and humanitarian purposes. (Legally, after 1995 it became a crime in the US to fund Hamas, no matter how they spent their money (see January 1995)) In 1997, a Congressional analyst will say it is estimated Hamas receives from 30 percent to 80 percent of its budget from sources inside the US. [New York Daily News, 3/13/1996; Associated Press, 5/26/1997] But in 2002, FBI agent Robert Wright will claim, “Against the wishes of some at the FBI in 1995, when I uncovered criminal violations in several of my cases, I promptly initiated active terrorism criminal investigations on these subjects. I developed probable cause to believe that some of these transfers or transmissions had been of money intended to be used in the support of domestic and international terrorism activities. The illegal transfers that supported specific terrorist activities involving extortion, kidnapping, and murder…” Much of Wright’s evidence will focus on Hamas figures Mohammad Salah and Mousa Abu Marzouk. [Federal News Service, 5/30/2002] FBI agent Joe Hummel will say in 1997 that he has evidence “millions of dollars” passed through the bank accounts of Marzouk. But even though Marzouk is in US custody, he will merely be deported later in 1997 (see July 5, 1995-May 1997). [Associated Press, 5/26/1997] Federal prosecutor Mark Flessner will later claim that Wright and others in the Vulgar Betrayal investigation were building a strong criminal case against some in this Hamas support network, but they were not allowed to charge anyone no matter how strong their evidence was (see October 1998). [Federal News Service, 5/30/2002] In March 2002, the FBI will still publicly claim that it is watching an “elaborate network” of Hamas supporters in the US (see March 15, 2002).

Entity Tags: Mark Flessner, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Joe Hummel, Vulgar Betrayal, Louis J. Freeh, Mohammad Salah, Mousa Abu Marzouk, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hamas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A 1996 CIA report shows that US intelligence believes that the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), a Saudi charity with strong ties to the Saudi government, is funding a variety of radical militant groups (see January 1996). However, no action is taken against it. Also in 1996, Valerie Donahue, a Chicago FBI agent who is presumably part of Robert Wright’s Vulgar Betrayal investigation, begins looking into Global Chemical Corp., a chemical company that appears to be an investment fraud scheme. The company is jointly owned by the IIRO and Abrar Investments Inc. Suspected terrorism financier Yassin al-Qadi has investments in Abrar Investments and he is also director of its Malaysian corporate parent. Donahue finds that Abrar Investments gave Global Chemical more than half a million dollars, and the IIRO gave it over $1 million. Further, the Saudi embassy has recently sent $400,000 to the IIRO. The president of Global Chemical is Mohammed Mabrook, a Libyan immigrant and suspected Hamas operative. Mabrook had previously worked for a pro-Palestinian group led by Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk. (Marzouk is in US detention from 1995 to May 1997, but he is apparently merely held for deportation and not questioned about matters like Global Chemical (see July 5, 1995-May 1997).) Donahue discovers that Global Chemical is keeping a warehouse full of highly toxic chemicals, but they do not seem to be selling them. In late 1996, a chemical weapons expert examines the chemicals and opines that they appear to be meant for a laboratory performing biochemistry or manufacturing explosives. While no direct evidence of bomb making is found, investigators know that a Hamas associate of Marzouk, Mohammad Salah, had previously trained US recruits to work with “basic chemical materials for the preparation of bombs and explosives.”(see 1989-January 1993) In January 1997, the FBI raids Global Chemical and confiscates the chemicals stockpiled in the warehouse. Mabrook is questioned, then let go. He moves to Saudi Arabia. Abrar Investments vacate their offices and cease operations. In June 1999, Mabrook will return to the US and will be prosecuted. He will be tried on fraud charges for illegal dealings with the IIRO and given a four year sentence. Meanwhile, the IIRO ignores an FBI demand for accounting records to explain how it spent several million dollars that seem to have gone to the IIRO and disappeared. In January 1997, Donahue requests a search warrant to find and confiscate the records, saying that she suspect IIRO officials are engaged in “possible mail and wire fraud… and money laundering.” Apparently, the probe stalls and the financial records are never maintained. Some investigators believe the probe is dropped for diplomatic reasons. [Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/16/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/29/2003] Investigators will later be prohibited from investigating a possible link between al-Qadi and the 1998 US embassy bombings (see October 1998). After 9/11, the US will apparently have ample evidence to officially label the IIRO a funder of terrorism, but will refrain from doing so for fear of embarrassing the Saudi government (see October 12, 2001).

Entity Tags: Valerie Donahue, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohammed Mabrook, Global Chemical Corp., International Islamic Relief Organization, Yassin al-Qadi, Vulgar Betrayal, Abrar Investments

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right).Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right). [Source: Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)Two US embassies in Africa are bombed within minutes of each other. At 10:35, local time, a suicide car bomb attack in Nairobi, Kenya, kills 213 people, including 12 US nationals, and injures more than 4,500. Mohamed al-Owhali and someone known only as Azzam are the suicide bombers, but al-Owhali runs away at the last minute and survives. Four minutes later, a suicide car bomb attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, kills 11 and injures 85. The attacks are blamed on al-Qaeda. Hamden Khalif Allah Awad is the suicide bomber there. [PBS Frontline, 2001; United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38, 5/2/2001] The Tanzania death toll is low because, remarkably, the attack takes place on a national holiday so the US embassy there is closed. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195] The attack shows al-Qaeda has a capability for simultaneous attacks. The Tanzania bombing appears to have been a late addition, as one of the arrested bombers allegedly told US agents that it was added to the plot only about 10 days in advance. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001] A third attack against the US embassy in Uganda does not take place due to a last minute delay (see August 7, 1998). [Associated Press, 9/25/1998] August 7, 1998, is the eighth anniversary of the arrival of US troops in Saudi Arabia, and some speculate that is the reason for the date of the bombings. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 46] In the 2002 book The Cell, reporters John Miller, Michael Stone, and Chris Miller will write, “What has become clear with time is that facets of the East Africa plot had been known beforehand to the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, and to Israeli and Kenyan intelligence services.… [N]o one can seriously argue that the horrors of August 7, 1998, couldn’t have been prevented.” They will also comment, “Inexplicable as the intelligence failure was, more baffling still was that al-Qaeda correctly presumed that a major attack could be carried out by a cell that US agents had already uncovered.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195, 206] After 9/11, it will come to light that three of the alleged hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi, had some involvement in the bombings (see October 4, 2001, Late 1999, and 1993-1999) and that the US intelligence community was aware of this involvement by late 1999 (see December 15-31, 1999), if not before.

Entity Tags: Hamden Khalif Allah Awad, Mohamed al-Owhali, Salem Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Azzam, Al-Qaeda, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline


Mark Flessner.
Mark Flessner. Two months after the US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), FBI agent Robert Wright and his Vulgar Betrayal investigation discover evidence they think ties Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al-Qadi to the bombings. Since 1997, Wright had been investigating a suspected terrorist cell in Chicago that was connected to fundraising for Hamas. They discovered what they considered to be clear proof that al-Qadi and other people they were already investigating had helped fund the embassy bombings. Wright asks FBI headquarters for permission to open an investigation into this money trail at this time, but the permission is not granted. Wright will later recall, “The supervisor who was there from headquarters was right straight across from me and started yelling at me: ‘You will not open criminal investigations. I forbid any of you. You will not open criminal investigations against any of these intelligence subjects.’” Instead, they are told to merely follow the suspects and file reports, but make no arrests. Federal prosecutor Mark Flessner, working with the Vulgar Betrayal investigation, later will claim that a strong criminal case was building against al-Qadi and his associates. “There were powers bigger than I was in the Justice Department and within the FBI that simply were not going to let [the building of a criminal case] happen. And it didn’t happen.… I think there were very serious mistakes made. And I think, it perhaps cost, it cost people their lives ultimately.” [ABC News, 12/19/2002] Flessner later will speculate that Saudi influence may have played a role. ABC News will report in 2002, “According to US officials, al-Qadi [has] close personal and business connections with the Saudi royal family.” [ABC News, 11/26/2002] Wright later will allege that FBI headquarters even attempted to shut down the Vulgar Betrayal investigation altogether at this time. He says, “They wanted to kill it.” [ABC News, 12/19/2002] However, he will claim, “Fortunately an assistant special agent in Chicago interceded to prevent FBI headquarters from closing Operation Vulgar Betrayal.” [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] He claims that a new supervisor will write in late 1998, “Agent Wright has spearheaded this effort despite embarrassing lack of investigative resources available to the case, such as computers, financial analysis software, and a team of financial analysts. Although far from being concluded, the success of this investigation so far has been entirely due to the foresight and perseverance of Agent Wright.” [Federal News Service, 5/30/2002] When the story of this interference in the alleged al-Qadi-embassy bombings connection will be reported in late 2002, Wright will conclude, “September the 11th is a direct result of the incompetence of the FBI’s International Terrorism Unit. No doubt about that. Absolutely no doubt about that. You can’t know the things I know and not go public.” He will remain prohibited from telling all he knows, merely hinting, “There’s so much more. God, there’s so much more. A lot more.” [ABC News, 12/19/2002]

Entity Tags: Yassin al-Qadi, Hamas, US Department of Justice, International Terrorism Unit, Mark Flessner, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Vulgar Betrayal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

BMI Inc. is a New Jersey-based investment firm with connections to a remarkable number of suspected terrorist financiers (see 1986-October 1999). In 1999, a former BMI accountant contacts the FBI and says that he believes BMI is supporting terrorism. He claims that money he “was transferring overseas on behalf of the company may have been used to finance the embassy bombings in Africa.”(see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) US investigators establish a financial link between BMI and an Islamic charity named Mercy International. A Nairobi, Kenya, branch of that charity helped support the embassy bombings. FBI agent Robert Wright’s Vulgar Betrayal investigation had recently discovered evidence suggesting a link between Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al-Qadi and the embassy bombings (see October 1998), and al-Qadi is a major investor of BMI. The Vulgar Betrayal investigation begins looking at this new possible link. BMI president Soliman Biheiri hears that FBI agent Gamal Abdel-Hafiz has been told about this, and he asks to meet with Abdel-Hafiz to explain. Apparently, he does not realize that Abdel-Hafiz is an undercover FBI agent. Wright asks Abdel-Hafiz to wear a wire to the meeting, and Abdel-Hafiz refuses to do so (see Early 1999-March 21, 2000). Apparently the meeting with Biheiri never takes place and the possible connections between BMI and the embassy bombings are not fully investigated before 9/11. [Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2002; Washington Post, 8/20/2003; Frontline, 10/16/2003]

Entity Tags: Gamal Abdel-Hafiz, Mercy International, Federal Bureau of Investigation, BMI Inc., Soliman Biheiri, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Vulgar Betrayal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Yassin al-Qadi.Yassin al-Qadi. [Source: Arab News]Yassin al-Qadi is included in a new US list of 39 individuals and organizations designated by the US as connected to terrorism (see October 12, 2001). The US officially declares him a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” and his US assets are frozen. [Chicago Tribune, 10/14/2001; Chicago Tribune, 10/29/2001] Al-Qadi says he is “horrified and shocked” by the allegations. [Chicago Tribune, 10/16/2001] There have been several accusations that al-Qadi laundered money to fund Hamas and al-Qaeda. He headed the Muwafaq (Blessed Relief) Foundation, a Saudi-based charity. Treasury officials allege it has funneled millions of dollars to al-Qaeda (see 1995-1998). [Chicago Tribune, 10/16/2001; Chicago Tribune, 10/29/2001] An investigation into his al-Qaeda connections was canceled by higher-ups in the FBI in October 1998 (see October 1998). In late 2002, Saudi Arabia will freeze al-Qadi’s accounts, an action the Saudis have taken against only three people. However, he has yet to be charged or arrested by the Saudis or the US. [Washington Post, 12/7/2002]

Entity Tags: Yassin al-Qadi, United States, US Department of the Treasury

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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